New clause 30 - Zero waste strategy

Part of Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 10th April 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes 2:30 pm, 10th April 2003

Welcome back to our proceedings, Mr. Amess. We have had a long debate on many of the issues, so I shall say little about clause 17 stand part except to reiterate my view that the Government's so-called strategy is a strategy for complying with the EU landfill directive rather than delivering a waste strategy—or even a waste hierarchy. Although the Minister wishes it to be a narrow Bill, I make the point again that taking one part of the waste hierarchy in isolation will have an effect on other parts of it, and not necessarily as the Minister and other hon. Members, especially on the Opposition Benches, would wish.

I turn to new clauses 1 to 4, on fly tipping. We seek to require the Secretary of State to have a strategy for reducing the amount of waste that is fly-tipped, extending the powers of local authorities and the Environment Agency to deal with fly tipping, and to consult relevant bodies, including the devolved regions, before finalising that strategy.

I hope that the Committee accepts that fly tipping is a scourge upon our land, particularly so in the countryside. The problem seems to be getting worse, but partly for the right reasons—the Government have rightly increased the landfill tax, and are making it more expensive to deal with waste. The unwelcome consequence of that, however, is that more people are choosing to behave illegally; they are fly-tipping their waste rather than dealing with it through the proper, legalised channels.

I draw the Committee's attention to a parliamentary answer that I received from the Minister on 4 March. I asked him to quantify the amount of material that had been fly-tipped for the

most recent year for which he had figures. The figures that he supplied were rather shocking. In 2001, 2,900 tonnes of white goods were fly-tipped in the countryside, as were 5,600 tonnes of furniture, 94,000 tonnes of green waste, 8,500 tonnes of general household waste, 380,000 tonnes of construction and demolition waste, 118,000 tonnes of cars and 8,500 tonnes of tyres. That is more than 0.6 million tonnes of material in one year. I should be interested to know how the Government managed to measure all that, but assuming that the figures are accurate, that is an horrendous amount. Those of us with urban areas in our constituencies—probably most of the Committee—will know that fly tipping goes on there too. It is a major problem.

The Minister might say that it is illegal to fly-tip. However, as with many such problems, regardless of whether the sanction is satisfactory, the chances of the perpetrators' being caught and prosecuted are certainly not satisfactory. People fly-tip in the expectation that they will get away with it. To be fair to the Ministry and to the Environment Agency, it is difficult to be in all places at all times and to pick up when people are fly-tipping in hidden locations in the country. Nevertheless, again according to parliamentary answers from the Minister on 20 March, 0.6 million tonnes of waste was fly-tipped in the countryside in 2001. However, we learn from the Environment Agency that there were only 225 prosecutions relating to all that waste. One hundred and eighty-seven individuals were fined a total of £158,857—less than £1,000 each—and 38 businesses were fined £144,000, or some £4,000 each. The chances of being caught and successfully prosecuted by the Environment Agency for depositing fly-tipped material in the countryside are minimal and the fines if one is caught are ludicrous—particularly for a business. The odds are that a business that is being fined £4,000 for fly tipping would have paid that or more than that to deal properly with the waste in the first place.

I hope that the Minister will take the issue seriously. He needs to have a strategy, as new clauses 1, 2, 3 and 4 suggest, in order to get a grip on the issue. That means that, first, he needs to identify where waste is being fly-tipped—what the trends are—and to look at more powers for either local authorities or the Environment Agency for prosecution purposes. He needs to start thinking innovatively as, in some regions, the Environment Agency is—for example, by putting closed circuit television in locations where fly tipping is a recurrent problem. If he does that, we might be able to send out the message not simply that fly tipping is antisocial but that those who fly-tip have a good chance of being caught, prosecuted and fined in a way that they will find not particularly attractive to their purses and pockets. That is not the situation at the moment.

I can tell the Minister of one location in my constituency, just outside Lewes, where there is a tremendous problem with tyre dumping. The general view is that it is undertaken not by individuals but by businesses, because the volume suddenly increases massively overnight. There is a disused chalk pit,

which is now reckoned to be the site of ''Mad Max III'', because at the last count it contained 27 burned-out cars. Dumping is a major problem throughout the country and I see no evidence that the Government have managed to get a grip on it, although I do not underestimate how difficult it will be to do so. However, MPs continually receive complaints about the matter in their postbags—I certainly do in East Sussex. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will respond positively to new clauses 1 to 4.

New clauses 13 to 16 deal with recycling strategies. I do not propose to spend long on them, except to draw attention to their merit. I have already spoken about them under an earlier grouping, where they would have been more appositely placed, so they have been covered. However, I draw the Minister's attention to clauses 17 to 20, the four other Liberal Democrat new clauses in the group, which suggest to the Minister that it would be advantageous to adopt a zero waste strategy. The Minister may say that a zero waste strategy is pie in the sky, or he may say that the Government are moving towards it through a combination of measures that are already in the Bill. I could write the Minister's reply for him, but I suspect that his civil servants can do that without my help.

However, if the Government committed themselves to a zero waste strategy, and the time scale is open, they would send out a clear message that it is not enough simply to minimise landfill or to increase recycling, beneficial though that is, but that we need a change in our culture, to use the Minister's phrase. We must ask ourselves first whether what we dump in landfill is waste: it could be a resource. One person's waste is another's resources.

I draw the Minister's attention to an innovative scheme in Newhaven in my constituency. The businesses in a business park there came together and identified the waste streams from individual businesses. They found that some businesses were paying for waste to be taken away and disposed of at landfill and that other businesses in the same park were buying materials that had been recycled from that waste. By marrying the two processes, the businesses eliminated the costs of disposal and successfully minimised waste. That is an example of waste minimisation and business competitiveness, and it is the sort of initiative that I would like the Government to promote.

I would like the Government to extend doorstep collection to every home in Britain without delay. It astonishes me that the Government are committed to increasing waste recycling yet I have heard no explicit statement recognising that there must be doorstep or kerbside collection for every house in the country. In parenthesis I say that I recognise that there would be a problem with blocks of flats. Nevertheless, the Minister should be making such an overt statement time and time again in response to the issues raised in the private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock). I know that the Minister is committed to it, but, with respect, we do not hear regularly from Ministers or from the Prime Minister that that is what the

Government want. Perhaps the Minister could correct that impression.

We need to look at the treatment of mixed waste and to consider limiting disposal contracts to a maximum of 10 years; that point was raised this morning when we discussed incineration. We need to look at producer responsibility; we also need to consider establishing a zero waste agency designed to pull together the threads and to act as a semi-official pressure group. The Minister may say that he is already achieving some of those goals, and I am the first to concede that things are moving in the right direction, but he should not underestimate the political value that comes from encapsulating the policy contained in the zero waste soundbite. A policy of zero waste would send out a message to the public that the Government are committed to tackling the problem of waste. It would drive forward the agenda in Government and in the Departments of some of the Minister's recalcitrant colleagues whose thinking on waste management is less advanced than his. It would also send a message to local government and to business. There is a great deal to be said for adopting such a strategy.

I finish by saying that I have considerable sympathy with the Conservatives' new clause 30 and that I await with interest the Minister's response.